October 25, 2009
The Obama administration has clung for so long to the Bush administration’s expansive claims of national security and executive power that it is in danger of turning President George W. Bush’s cover-up of abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism into President Barack Obama’s cover-up.
We have had recent reminders of this dismaying retreat from Mr. Obama’s passionate campaign promises to make a break with Mr. Bush’s abuses of power, a shift that denies justice to the victims of wayward government policies and shields officials from accountability.
In Britain earlier this month, a two-judge High Court panel rejected arguments made first by the Bush team and now by the Obama team and decided to make public seven redacted paragraphs in American intelligence documents relating to torture allegations by a former prisoner at Guantánamo Bay. The prisoner, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British national, says he was tortured in Pakistan, Morocco and at a C.I.A.-run prison outside Kabul before being transferred to Guantánamo. He was freed in February.
To block the release of those paragraphs, the Bush administration threatened to cut its intelligence-sharing with Britain, an inappropriate threat that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton repeated. But the court concluded that the actual risk of harm to intelligence-sharing was minimal, given the close relationship between the two countries. The court also found a “compelling public interest” in disclosure, and said that nothing in the disputed seven paragraphs — a summary of evidence relating to the involvement of the British security services in Mr. Mohamed’s ordeal — had anything to do with “secret intelligence.”
The Obama administration has expressed unhappiness with the ruling, and the British government plans to appeal. But the court was clearly right in recognizing the importance of disclosure “for reasons of democratic accountability and the rule of law.” ...